Abby Wambach explains what’s next for women’s soccer
As a forward for the US women‘s football team, Abby Wambach was a World Cup champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist. She retired in 2015 as the all-time top scorer in sport, male or female. Since then, Ms Wambach has written three books and invested in Angel City FC, a Los Angeles-based National Women’s Soccer League expansion team that begins playing in 2022.
The Americans have been two years into their sex discrimination lawsuit against the American Football Federation, an action that prompted the sold-out crowd at the 2019 Women’s World Cup final in Lyon, France, to chant “Equality salary! â after the team’s victory over the Netherlands. Their lawsuit and success on the pitch prompted women from other teams and other sports to seek greater compensation and more financial investment. US Soccer has said it has offered female players equal pay in matches it controls and hopes to resolve the case outside the court system.
Ms Wambach spoke with The Future of Everything about her predictions for professional women’s football in the United States and the future retirement she sees for current female players.
You played in the National Women’s Soccer League towards the end of your professional career. He’s less than 10 years old and a few years ago he had eccentric sponsors like the National Mango Board and was struggling to survive. Now it is expanding and has sponsors such as Budweiser, Nationwide and Ally Bank. What do you think of the NWSL’s progress since the U.S. Women’s National Team won the 2019 Women’s World Cup?
The 2015 World Cup was sort of the start of a part of the world that was starting to see the business landscape open up to the world of women’s football.
People like me were able to capitalize on speaking engagements etc. [National-team stars] like Alex [Morgan] and Megan [Rapinoe] were able to truly capitalize on their own personal endorsement and sponsorship. Going to the 2019 Women’s World Cup, a lot of things were happening at the same time. This specific team had so many different types of players – and these players, they don’t make the kind of money the guys in the NFL make or the guys in the NBA, by any means. But these players are starting to see real money flowing into their bank accounts, whether it’s because they sign lucrative sponsorship deals or because they are going to play in some. [professional] leagues.
So the real question is: why ’19? Why was this championship different? And the truth is, I personally know that when you invest in women, you get a real return on your investment. And this 19 World Cup was the first time the corporate world had really, really invested in the women’s team. It wasn’t because they were attached to the American Football Federation. They were really investing in these players. And then these players played under extraordinary pressure.
In 2018, you spoke at an event for Time’s Up, the non-profit organization that seeks to end sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace against women. Actor Natalie Portman was there and, in short, you both invested in Angel City FC. How did it happen?
Natalie Portman hears the story of women’s football and how we don’t get paid, even close to what men get paid, and we are much more successful, she heard that and just couldn’t believe it.
She was like, I can’t just hear this and step back and be shocked every time I hear another woman’s story. Because it’s the truth of all women in all industries: that we just don’t earn the same amount and that is very culturally accepted. And it’s wild. So she was like, I have to put my skin in the game.
So she created an investment group. I was fortunate enough to be selected to be part of the team for this ownership group. I guess the rest is history.
So I’m very optimistic, not just about women’s sport, but about women’s football, especially in this country. I think 15 to 20 years later we’re going to see some completely packed stadiums. We’re going to see a world that not only embraces but might even prefer women’s football to men. At least at [professional] club level, of course.
Are you speaking in the United States or the world?
In the United States and they ain’t like fighting words that I try to fight with [Major League Soccer] more than. But I believe that women’s football has captured the hearts of so many people in this country. I know it because I felt it. I know this because I have experienced it in my own career. And then I watch this change happen.
I believe there is a part of this country that thinks professional athletes are the most spoiled bunch of people on the planet. And I think that’s why some people tend to like watching women’s sports over men’s sports. [because women appear less spoiled]. But they’re just different games if you look at them. They are different experiences, which need to be treated differently in some ways, but certainly not paying off.
You are six years after your playing career, but you recently starred in a Gatorade commercial with Usain Bolt. How popular have you been as an endorser recently, compared to when you were still playing?
I won probably three or four times as much as a retired player than as a national team player. This probably says more about the [support] team that I have. But we are in an interesting place. For me, I think I was able to figure out how to grow my business and my brand. I just got to have a very lucrative career in public speaking. I have a lot of dreams for the future when it comes to thinking about it for female athletes, getting them into the conversation so they can become theirs. [limited partners].
What kind of future do you see for young players now?
When I retired I struggled to know and understand what I could be and do for a living. What I want for future retired athletes is that they don’t have to worry or stress about it like I did because they have a safety net. I want them to know what the money they have earned is for. I want them to be able to invest and sit on public boards. I want them to do what they want – exactly what every man who’s retired, having had the career I’ve had. This is what they deserve.
Responses were condensed and edited from an interview and emails.
Write to Rachel Bachman at [email protected]
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